William Ludwig Lutgens (° 1991, Turnhout) completed a two-year postgraduate course at the HISK in Ghent at the end of 2017. Previously, he obtained a Master of Research in Art and Design at Sint-Lucas School of Arts in Antwerp after having already obtained a Master's degree in Illustration and Graphic Design. His artistic career got off to a promising start by winning several art prizes. In 2017, for example, he won the Eeckman Art Prize (Bozar, Brussels), The First Line Award-Lyra prize (Drawing Room, Madrid) and finished second in Art Contest (Boghossian Foundation, Brussels). This year he won the biennial Gaverprijs for painting.
The work of William Ludwig Lutgens has been gaining momentum lately. In his eclectic earlier works, he eagerly shows the urge to try things out in different media, styles and materials. Calling his art diverse is therefore an understatement of size. To generate maximum impact, it sometimes seems as if he wants to cram as much information, stories and ideas into every work. A barely restrained tension can be felt in each of his works. The artist does not shy away from a form or material experiment. Yet he is gradually starting to purge more and more to come to a meaningful essence of what he wants to express and how he wants to do it. Following on from each specific story and responding to a changing context, Lutgens creates paintings, drawings, sculptures, publications and installations. A multidisciplinary way of working and the multifaceted creation process fit together and shape his versatile, contrary artistic practice.
Despite the great formal diversity of his works, recurring themes and motifs are a common thread throughout his oeuvre. In his artistic practice, the artist creates stories that reflect on cultural diversity, interpersonal relationships, the influence of social and political systems and recently also the post-colonial history of Congo. By using the wealth of stories and relationships, Lutgen creates associative, playful works but always with a critical undertone. An astute reflection fed by everyday reality, results in a colorful and apparently accessible oeuvre. The works of William Ludwig Lutgens immediately hit you. They are direct, powerful and often funny. Through regular winks at art history and not averse to any irony, the artist succeeds in confronting things in different ways, not only rationally but also intuitively and intuitively. His art is often a reaction to what he sees, experiences or has experienced. He transforms events large and small from his own life and from society into a polyphonic work.
Through his eye for at first sight sometimes banal, everyday events and anecdotes, he fillets our human behavior and our social fabric. Since 2016, he has been the responsible publisher, designer and editor of Het Illustrated Magazine, an irregularly published magazine. In a clever way, he ridicules popular media and advertising as an adept satirist and makes a sharp, wry comment on the absurdity of politics and society. By playing with platitudes and clichés, William Ludwig Lutgens wants to interpret problems and raise questions through his art. Preferably even more than he puts in himself. According to him, however, it is not up to the artist to give answers or provide solutions.
A striking example of his socially critical attitude is the space-filling installation Please play by the rules from 2018, a work that he completed during his residence at the FLACC in Genk. This work consists of five wooden panels, each with one word from the title. The panels are painted in a flat, almost clumsy way that is most reminiscent of the paintings of Walter Swennen and especially how this radical and associative explores the relationship between text, symbols, meaning and pictorial treatment. The panels are individually mounted on simple wooden slats and stand upright on ceramic feet. Hands are visible over the edges, also in ceramic, which seem to hold the panel. In William Ludwig Lutgens, each panel becomes such a character, an actor in a cheerful but surprising staging with which the artist refers to street demonstrations and the protest signs that are usually used on such occasions.
It seems a kind of peaceful demonstration as a sign of positivism and hope. Through the slogan Please play by the rules, people are asked to respect the rules in a very polite and friendly manner. The sharp, critical polyphony of the work percolates unmistakably beneath the colorful comic surface. By imagining an apparently harmless and harmless freedom to protest, Lutgens thus undeniably denounces the hypocrisy of those in power who violate their own rules and laws.
A recent artistic trip to Congo, at the invitation of Médecins Sans Frontières and Marianne Hoet, and the unforgettable impressions he gained there, inspired William Ludwig Lutgens to an ever-growing series of new works. At first reading, the image here also seems to emphasize the colorful, exotic and fascinating. There are no direct references to the charged reality of the colonial system that we are all aware of today. In his paintings and drawings, the artist searches for storylines and images that he balances with his characteristic sense of humor, playfulness and irony with a sense of context, nuance and seriousness.
The critical meaning of The Belgian Baggage (and the Guilt Quilt) / The Belgian Baggage (and the Guilt Quilt), a work of 2019 from the 'Congo' series, nevertheless leaves nothing to be desired. Lutgens shows us a soft-looking sculptural installation where a well-filled backpack is located next to a colorful checkered, half-rolled blanket on a spongy cardboard surface. It could be the innocent equipment of a homeless person or a refugee. As is often the case with William Ludwig Lutgens, nothing is what it seems. The windows on the blanket all appear to contain images of illustrious figures and dark facts from Belgian-Congolese history. On the packed backpack, next to patched patches of Tintin, the smurfs, Simba beer, the Belgian tricolor and Leopold II, there are painted texts such as "Stanley Choco", "Union Minière de Katanga", "Mistabel" and "Het Civilizing Belgium". In this way, the Belgian Baggage directly addresses the viewer and forces him to take up a position or at least question it. With this installation as a metaphor for Belgium's colonial past, Lutgens traverses the boundary between a naive, clumsy appearance on the one hand and a caustic, oppressive meaning on the other. A kind of absurd Widergutmachung ritual, as it were.
The trip to Congo not only brings the artist a wealth of anecdotes, stories and a certain historical awareness, he also becomes inspired by yesterday little-known materials and techniques. Back in the studio, Lutgens starts experimenting with works in clay and color pigments, among other things. In search of new three-dimensional shapes, he can go to the workshops of the FLACC where he gratefully works with wood, metal and ceramics. The two-year residence allows him to expand his artistic practice in a meaningful way with objects, sculptures and installations.
A lively use of pigments and a non-academic, brutal, almost "dry" painting technique in which the Congolese artists make murals stimulate William Ludwig Lutgens to look for the same effect in his drawings and paintings. In the first place, Lutgens describes himself as a draftsman who paints. Drawing forms the basis of every work and even of his artistry. Straying between Willy Linthout and James Ensor combined with the Congolese inspiration, his fresh approach results in dynamic, nervous graphic compositions.
Not dissatisfied with the first artistic experiments, he feels that a real breakthrough comes when he gets to know the Hanji paper through his girlfriend in her home country of South Korea. Hanji is the name of traditional handmade paper from Korea and is made from the inner bark of mulberry tree. Out of respect for this age-old manual process, Lutgens himself starts marouflering, which means he can also work in a larger format. The special tactile qualities of the paper allow him to paint faster. By applying less paint, he obtains a more direct reaction from his own work, so that the characteristic energetic properties that he purified from his African impressions can be felt.
Lutgen's choice of evocative, grotesque scenes, bizarre figures and trivial objects gives his images a powerful, evocative ambiguity. In combination with a contrasting and bright color, sometimes in an expressive, vibrating style, sometimes simple, almost childlike, his paintings acquire a special tension. His paintings therefore rightly penetrate deep into the nerves of contemporary Belgian painting.